Sanskrit Pronunciation


Learn Sanskrit: What Yoga Students and Teachers Need to Know

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Sanskrit 101: 5 Tips to Start Speaking Like a Sanskrit Scholar by Your Next Yoga Class

By Jessica Levine August 10, 2018

Pick up these essential Sanskrit tips, and you’ll never mispronounce “hatha” again.

Are you ready to confidently stroll into your yoga class with a bit more than “namaste” in your vocabulary? Pronunciation is a great place to start expanding your Sanskrit repertoire. That’s because, in this complex language, where you place the accent in the word ananda, for example, can literally make the difference between bliss and sadness, as Richard Rosen, who leads our Sanskrit 101 course, points out.

Sanskrit words are authentically rendered in their own alphabet, called Nagari. Through the process of transliteration, where the characters of one language are represented by the characters of another, Westerners get the word rendered in a way we can read. But because there are 48 Nagari characters and just 26 roman letters, it’s not a one-to-one ratio. That’s why sometimes you’ll see Sanskrit words written in Roman letters with straight or squiggly lines or dots over or under them, like in Adho Mukha Śvānāsana. These are called diacritical marks or signs. And they’re one way of getting more than one sound out of a single letter.

To be able to pronounce Sanskrit words correctly, you’ll need to know which sound each combination of Roman letter and diacritical mark represents. Here, Rosen shares a few sounds common in the standard yoga vocabulary.

1. Ṛ

Pronunciation: “RI”

An Ṛ in a transliteration of Sanskrit, like in “Vṛkṣāsana,” is what’s known as the ṛ-vowel. Yes, vowel. The Ṛ followed by another consonant is actually pronounced like it’s followed by an I, as in the name “Rick,” making it “vrik-SHA-sa-na.”

2. C

Pronunciation: “CH”

A C in a transliteration is pronounced like the CH in “church.” Sometimes you’ll see the H included in the transliteration to help English readers, other times not. A few common yoga words with the “CH” sound: Ardha Candrāsana (“are-dah chan-DRA-sa-na”), Cakra (“cha-kra”), Marīcyāsana (“mah-ree-chee-AH-sa-na”).

3. TH

Pronunciation: “TA”

Conversely, TH in a Sanskrit transliteration is never pronounced like the TH in “the,” but rather like the Ts in “light.” The correct pronunciation of the word “hatha” for example is “ha-ta,” not “ha-tha.”

4. Ṣ, Ś, S

Pronunciation: “SH” or “SA”

Both Ṣ and Ś are pronounced like SH in “shut.” For example they sound the same in Vṛkṣāsana (“vrik-SHA-sa-na”) and Śavāsana (“sha-VAH-sa-na”). S without a diacritical mark is pronounced the way it looks, as in āsana (“AH-sa-na”).

5. V

Pronunciation: “VA” or “WA”

If a V is at the beginning of word like Vasisthasana, it’s pronounced the way we’d pronounced it in English like the V in “valley.” If, however, it follows another consonant, as in Adho Mukha Śvānāsana, it’s pronounced like a W (“ah-doh moo-kah shwa-NAH-sa-na”).


How To Pronounce These Common Sanskrit Words
By Amber Scriven